I have to admit that “survival” movies are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy watching them as much for the stuff they get right, as for the things they often get horribly wrong. But, either way, these man (or woman!) against nature flicks are always rousing adventures, and sometimes you may even learn a practical survival tip or two.
There are many such lists out there, and if you ask a dozen prepper types about their favorites, you will probably get twelve different answers, but, here is my list of what I think are the 10 Best Survival Movies Ever Made.
- Alive – Alive is a survival movie that should be on any “Top Ten.” There have been several movies made of the legendary crash of a soccer team in the Andes and the moral choice of what they had to do to survive, but in my opinion, this 1993 version is the best. It poses that timeless question of what would you do if your plane crashed in the middle of nowhere and you had no food. The film is based on the true events of a chartered flight carrying an Uruguayan soccer team that crashed, leaving its surviving members stranded in the Andes in 1972. The story takes a gruesome twist in a “you have to do anything to survive” fashion, when the concept of cannibalism to fight off starvation comes into play.
- The Way Back – I am presenting these in “no particular order,” but when asked, I almost always say that “The Way Back” is probably my favorite survival movie, and is indeed one of the best ever made. This absolutely gripping tale follows the escape of Polish POWs from a Soviet Gulag, only to then walk 4,000 miles through the battle lines of WWII to get back home to India. If you thought surviving the snows of Siberia, where you can easily freeze to death overnight, was a survival game, this story runs from that freezing cold environment, straight into the hot, dry, Mongolian desert. Essentially this survival movie traverses the drama of both extreme environments in a very real situation where characters have to adapt in every way, and use every skill and their sheer will to survive.
- 127 Hours – In the spirit of Alive, 127 hours is another one of the best kinds of survival films — those that are based on a true event — and also like that film, this one too explores the unthinkable choices we may be forced to make in a survival situation. The film’s title owes itself to the “127 hours” that rock climber Aron Ralston spent pinned under a rock, stuck in a crevasse, until he was forced to amputate his damaged arm with nothing more than a pocket knife to get free and survive.
- Cast Away – Not a true story, but kind of a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, and an acting “tour de force” for star Tom Hanks. For many, Cast Away is the quintessential survival movie. It features a plane crash, a deserted island, one man with a very determined and innovative mindset – and a volleyball turned best friend named “Wilson.” Starting out with little survival knowledge, Hank’s former FedEx employee, Chuck Noland, learns how to split coconuts, trap fish, build fires, and creatively make use of several of the items in the FedEx boxes that washed up with him.
- In the Heart of the Sea – Another in the “based on true events” category, this one is interesting in that it not only is based on a real incident, it is that incident, that then inspired one of the greatest books in American Literature. The film is a recounting of a New England whaling ship that was sunk by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick.
- The Martian – OK, unlike the “true stories” I have been raving about on this list, The Martian is pure fantasy, but the lessons it teaches in “brains over brawn” survival, is not to be missed. The ingenious ways that Matt Damon’s “one man left behind,” is forced to survive on his own on a planet with no life, and limited supplies are any serious prepper’s dream. One of my all-time favorite movie quotes sums up this film best, “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option, I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”
- The Revenant – Brutal and unrelenting, the Revenant may not be as well-known as some of the other films on this list. Another in the “true story” category, in the film Leonardo DiCaprio, plays American frontiersman, fur trapper, trader, hunter, and explorer Huge Glass, who is betrayed by other members of his party, and left for dead after being mauled within an inch of his life by a bear. That is when then his story of survival begins. A brilliant actor, DiCaprio makes you literally feel ever bloody and painful step on his path to revenge and redemption, while exhibiting some amazing wilderness survival skills and bushcraft along the way.
- Unbroken – If you are seeing a pattern here, this is another film that makes my top ten because it is based on a real-life, inspirational story of survival. This one expertly tells the tale of Olympian Louis Zamperini, who after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp – where his will to survive is then really put the test, and as you can tell from the title, he is bent to his limits, but never broken.
- 9. The Perfect Storm – True story time again, this one the retelling of journalist Sebastian Junger’s excellent book of the same name, that itself was the retelling of the story of commercial fishermen who went missing in a 1991 storm. The story of survival here comes in the shape of a very turbulent ride through absolutely gigantic waves and the dangers of being out at sea. While most survival scenarios would be imagined in a forest, or on an island, it goes to show that anywhere can be unsafe when Mother Nature has your fate in her hands.
- 10. Open Water – In many ways JAWS is a survival film and bears “honorable mention” on this list, but I left it off, in favor of Open Water, which is a more harrowing film, not only for its more modern filmmaking techniques, but because again it is the nail-biting retelling of the true story of a vacationing couple that is accidentally left behind in shark infested waters during an ill-fated dive trip.
What do you think of list? Do you disagree with any of my choices? Did I leave out any of your favorites? Please feel free to comment below!